Highlights #8: The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Eugene H. Peterson)



Peterson, who has been gaining a growing reputation as a “pastor’s pastor”, speaks words of wisdom and refreshment for pastors caught in the busy-ness of preaching, teaching, and “running the church”. Chapters include poetic reflections on the Beatitudes, advice on spiritual direction “between Sundays”, and the language of prayer.

The Contemplative Pastor is one of five books written by Peterson particularly for the American pastor. All of which should be required reading.

Here are some of the passages that I highlighted:

The assumption of spirituality is that God is always doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.

Prayer is subversive activity. It involves a more or less an open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime….

If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.

But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker.  It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant.

I am busy because I am lazy I indirectly let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself.

It was a favorite theme of C. S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the  last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.

How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?

What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things: I can be a pastor who prays. I can be a pastor who preaches. I can be a pastor who listens.

Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time.

The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It’s a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St. Paul, but a gift nonetheless) that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening.

The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does. I mark out the times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work-prayer, preaching, and listening can issue.

I am misunderstood by most of the people who call me pastor. Their misunderstandings are contagious, and I find myself misunderstanding: Who am I? What is my proper work?  I look around. I ask questions. I scout the American landscape for images of pastoral work. What does a pastor do? What does a pastor look like? What place does a pastor occupy in church and culture? I get handed a job description that seems to have been developed from the latest marketing studies of religious consumer needs.

How can I keep from settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers?

…one by one, pastors are rejecting the job description that has been handed to them and are taking on this new one or, as it turns out, the old one that has been in use for most of the Christian centuries.

…the work between Sundays has changed radically,  and it has not been a development but a defection.

I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language.

Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as pastor was to teach people to pray.

Pastoral work, I learned later, is that aspect of Christian ministry that specializes in the ordinary. It is the nature of pastoral life to be attentive to, immersed in, and appreciative of the everyday texture of people’s lives

Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational humility.

Peterson says that we must be, “…convinced that the Holy Spirit is “beforehand” in all our meetings and conversations.”

We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor. The problem, though, is that while we can get by with it in our communities, often with applause, we can’t get by with it within ourselves. Being a pastor who satisfies a congregation is one of the easiest jobs on the face of the earth – if we are satisfied with satisfying  congregations.

We believe that the invisible is more important than the visible at any one single moment and in any single event that we choose to examine.

Pastors are caretakers of language, the shepherds of words, keeping them from harm, exploitation, misuse. Words not only mean something; they are something, each with a sound and rhythm all its own. Poets.